Battle of Myitkyina file photo [5463]

Battle of Myitkyina

10 Mar 1944 - 3 Aug 1944


ww2dbaseIn Mar 1944, Colonel Charles Hunter of the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), more popularly known as the Merrill's Marauders, led a combined force consisted of the 150th Chinese Regiment, the First Marauder Regiment, the 3rd Company Animal Transport Regiment, and part of the 22nd Division artillery against the village of Lazu, 35 miles from Myitkyina, Burma. They arrived at Lazu on 10 Mar, and immediately started to make plans to assault Myitkyina. Hunter was notified that his force, known as H Force, was to be the leading assault group, while Colonel Kinnison was to protect his east flank and Colonel McGee's M Force was to protect the west flank.

ww2dbaseOn 3 Apr 1944, American General Joseph Stilwell met with his British counterparts to learn their strategic objectives. British leaders Louis Mountbatten and General William Slim affirmed Stilwell that he should not worry about the possibility of a British withdrawal in Burma in order to better defend against the Japanese expedition into India, for that they were confident of the eventual victory at Imphal and Kohima. In a surprising move, Slim turned over the command of the guerrilla Chindits over to Stilwell to better coordinate the combined efforts of the Chindits and Merrill's Marauders. It was a move that Major General Orde Wingate, the former commander of the Chindits, probably would not have approved had he not have perished on 24 Mar in an air crash. In hindsight this move reflected the lack of communications between the top leaders Mountbatten and Stilwell. While Mountbatten's intentions were to give Stilwell the responsibilities of conducting a disruptive campaign and leave the actual liberation of Burma operation to the British troops, it also showed that Stilwell's campaign to take Myitkyina was not communicated to Mountbatten. When queried by Prime Minister Winston Churchill about the recent American movement against the city, Mountbatten could only respond by saying he only incidentally heard about this plan, and noted he would write Stilwell to inform the American general that the British were not prepared to reinforce Myitkyina to hold the city after a successful American campaign while a majority of British troops were held up at Imphal and Kohima. It was rather unclear why Mountbatten appeared to be uninformed of this move in Stilwell's campaign, especially when considerable numbers of British personnel were involved in the actual operation.

ww2dbaseLate Apr 1944, Chiang Kaishek held up his end of the bargain with SEAC and launched an attack with 40,000 men from Yunnan under the command of General Huang Weili. Within the next few days, the number grew to 72,000, overpowering the Japanese forces in northern Burma. On 17 May 1944, Merrill's Marauders led the way for a Chinese-American combined force and attacked Myitkyina; however, lack of coordination between Merrill's Marauders and the stronger regulars behind them gave the Japanese an opportunity to reinforce the town, making the attack on Myitkyina a long campaign. While Myitkyina was besieged, the Japanese troops under the command of Mutaguchi on the extended campaign at Imphal and Kohima in India began to withdraw back into India. As the Japanese withdrew, British Lieutenant General Geoffrey Scoones gave chase and destroyed many demoralized Japanese units. Attacks from various directions outflanked the Japanese 15th Division, and territory west of the Chindwin River near the Burma-India border was regained. The siege at Imphal and Kohima were declared broken early in Jul 1944 with the largest defeat in Japanese thus far in the war. 55,000 casualties were suffered by the Japanese forces, with the majority to non-combat causes of starvation, exhaustion, and disease. In comparison, the Allied troops suffered 17,500 casualties. Mutaguchi was relieved of his command after this defeat, succeeded by Hyotaro Kimura.

ww2dbaseAt Myitkyina, flawed American intelligence seriously underestimated the number of Japanese soldiers at Myitkyina. At peak time during the battle the Japanese forces totaled about 4,600 men, but the American estimate was a quarter of that quantity. The Japanese, similarly, could not estimate the number of the attackers, though they made the opposite mistake of grossly overestimating the size of the Allied forces. The result was a flawed campaign from both sides. While the Americans took on risks by making rapid moves against an enemy that was stronger than they had estimated, the Japanese fought unnecessarily conservatively and had forgone many opportunities of counteroffensives for believing that the Allied forces were much larger.

ww2dbaseIn May, the 14th Evacuation Hospital was moved forward to the general area with the primary duty of caring for the sick and wounded Marauders. The hospital staff recorded that

many of them were seriously ill and they were so tired, dirty, and hungry that they looked more dead than alive. They suffered from exhaustion, malnutrition, typhus, malaria, amebic dysentery, jungle sores, and many other diseases resulting from months of hardship in the tropical jungle.

ww2dbaseThe harsh conditions the Marauders fought in were made worse by their constant fighting in the jungles without adequate rest and recuperation. Colonel Hunter made a report of complaint to General Stilwell noting that his men had been overworked even at the face of a lack of promotion and decoration (except for Purple Hearts for those wounded). Even promises that they would not be used as spearheads for Chinese troops were broken, as shown by the current campaign at Myitkyina. Nevertheless, the Marauders stayed in the campaign, and fought on valiantly.

ww2dbaseOn 3 Jun 1944 the 42nd and the 150th Chinese Regiments made an attack on the town, only to be pushed back by the Japanese after heavy casualties. Though starting to have a sense that the Japanese garrison was stronger than expected, the Allied command still believed that the town was only defended by fewer than 1,000 Japanese troops. Over the next month, a battle of attrition wore down both sides, with exhaustion and disease claiming a significant portion of casualties. The first signs that the Japanese were starting to lose the battle of attrition appeared in the last week of July when Kachin rangers operating in Detachment 101 found Japanese field hospital patients being floated on rafts downstream by hospital staff, in hope that they would be received by Japanese garrisons down the river. Even the natives were reporting that the Japanese were starting to hire them to make rafts and build booby traps. Rumors were also being spread by means of captured Japanese prisoners of war that a small number of key officers at Myitkyina had committed ritual suicide. The suspicions of a upcoming victory began to actually materialize only a couple of days later, on 26 Jul, when the American 3rd Battalion of the Marauders made a significant gain by capturing the northern air field at Myitkyina. Over the next week, Japanese resistance was noticeably weaker. On or about 1 Aug, General Mizukami committed suicide after seeing the main part of his army safely withdrawing from the area. Before he did so, however, he ordered for those wounded that could not be evacuated efficiently to stay behind as rear guard and hold the town as long as they could.

ww2dbaseOn 3 Aug 1944, Myitkyina was finally captured, restoring use of the key airfields there. At its conclusion, the Allied command totaled its casualties, and the number ran high. 972 Chinese were killed and 3,184 were wounded; after adding the 188 sick who were evacuated earlier, the Chinese suffered a total of 4,344 casualties. The Americans suffered 272 killed, 955 wounded, and 980 evacuated for sickness; the American casualties totaled 2,207. The Japanese suffered 790 killed, 1,180 wounded, and 187 captured; Colonel Maruyama was able to escape.

ww2dbaseThe capture of Mogaung by the Chindits on 26 Jun in Operation Thursday and the capture of Myitkyina on 3 Aug meant that the Japanese were now driven out of northern Burma. American engineers were immediately sent in to build a new road through the Hukawng and Mogaung valleys through Kamaing to Myitkyina, and plans were start to be put together to repair the road from Myitkyina to Bhamo to the south, where the Allies hoped to pick up the Burma Road.

ww2dbaseAfter a short time to regroup, Allied forces pushed south again. Japanese strategy in Burma from this point forward changed drastically toward the defensive, abandoning the notion of maintaining a northern flank to threaten China's supply situation. The Japanese forces in Burma saw a change in personnel as well. After the failures of 1944, Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi was relieved, replaced by Lieutenant General Shibachi Katamura, formerly of the Japanese 54th Infantry Division. The Burma Area Army saw a new commander in Lieutenant General Kimura Hyotaro, formerly of the Ordnance Administration Headquarters in Tokyo.

Frank McLynn, The Burma Campaign
Nathan Prefer, Vinegar Joe's War

Last Major Update: Sep 2007

Battle of Myitkyina Timeline

15 Mar 1944 Joseph Stilwell ordered the Chinese 22nd Division to attack the ridge of Jambu Bum in northern Burma.
19 Mar 1944 Chinese 66th Regiment captured Jambu Bum ridge in northern Burma, about 140 kilometers northwest of Myitkyina.
28 Mar 1944 1st Battalion of US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) eliminated a Japanese position near the Mogaung River north of Shaduzup, Burma at 0430 hours. After sun rise, Japanese 70-millimeter howitzer and 77-millimeter mountain guns fired on American positions to clear the road to Shaduzup as Shaduzup was now under attack by Chinese 22nd Division. Meanwhile, Japanese troops counterattacked Chinese troops near Jambu Bum ridge. Elsewhere in Burma, The 2nd Battalion departed Auche at 0600 hours, Japanese troops in pursuit. The first units of the 2nd Battalion began arriving at Nhpum Ga at 1000 hours. Frank Merrill left the defense of Nhpum Ga to the 2nd Battalion and moved his headquarters to the clearing of Hsamshingyang. Merrill was visibly pale and unwell en route to H. The doctors believed he had suffered a minor heart attack and arranged Merrill to be evacuated by air.
28 Apr 1944 A force of 4,000 Chinese troops, 1,400 American troops (Merrill's Marauders), and 600 Kachin scouts began marching for Myitkyina, Burma.
3 May 1944 The US Joint Chiefs of Staff directed Joseph Stilwell to make Myitkyina, Burma his primary goal, independent of SEAC, in order to develop communications with China in support of the American effort in the Pacific.
15 May 1944 The Chinese-American-Kachin force outside of Myitkyina, Burma transmitted the code phrase "strawberry sundae", signifying that it was in position to strike the Japanese-occupied city.
17 May 1944 American, Chinese, and Kachin troops began the assault on Myitkyina, Burma. The attack began at 1000 hours, and by 1050 the airfield was captured.
18 May 1944 Joseph Stilwell arrived at the Myitkyina airfield in Burma just a day after the airfield was captured, congratulating Frank Merrill in advance for the capture of the rest of the city, which he believed would be achieved within days. Later on the same day, Merrill dispatched a Chinese unit to attack the city; the attack was called off when two Chinese battalions mistakenly engaged each other in a fierce firefight.
19 May 1944 Three Chinese battalions attacked each other in confusion while assaulting Myitkyina, Burma.
26 Jun 1944 Brigadier-General Theodore F. Weasels took over command of the Myitkyina Task Force from the sick Brigadier-General Boatner following another bout of malaria.
3 Aug 1944 A two-month siege by US and Chinese forces at Myitkyina in Burma finally succeeded in capturing it.


Frank Merrill with two Chinese officers, Naubum, Burma, Apr 1944Men of the US Army 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) Spent 75-mm howitzer shells piling up outside the besieged city Myitkyina, Burma, mid-1944; note M1 carriage


Map of situation in India and Burma, Nov 1943-May 1944Map depicting the movement of Allied H, K, and M forces toward Myitkyina, Burma, 28 Apr to 16 May 1944Map depicting the arrival of Allied H, K, and M forces at Myitkyina, Burma, 17-19 May 1944

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Cleve Archibald says:
14 Oct 2006 04:19:56 PM

This a search to idetify Caribbean countries whose citizens made up Merrils Marauders in operation Galahad in the libaration of Burma (1943-1944.

Thank you,
2. Anonymous says:
4 Sep 2007 05:24:40 PM

This is a fine report despite minor typosgrammar errors. It would have been excellent if it had maps! Without maps, it is really hard to grasp the story.
3. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
14 Jan 2008 02:56:25 AM

At 1000hrs on the 17th May 1944, under cover of an attack being made by the 150th Regiument of the Chinese 50th Division, Galahads 1st Battalion slipped over the Irrawady by ferry, and within an hour had surprised and captured the nearby airstrip. Stilwell, in typical unco-operative fashion, then took it upon himself to order up reinforcements without first consulting the Supreme Commander (Mountbatten). The latter to his credit did sent a congratulatory message to the tactless Stilwell, but Churchill was utterly enraged when he learnt, not only of Stilwells blatant act of insubordination, but that, in fact, the important town had not been captured at all (as Stilwell was now boasting) only that the now utterly shattered Galahad Force held just a meagre bridgehead across the river. A situation that would now require substantial resources, to maintain the siege of the town, which might have been better employed in accordance with Allied Forces plans elsewhere.
4. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
15 Jan 2008 04:44:24 AM

The first Allied formation to actually enter the town of Myitkyina was the 72nd Brigade (6th Bn,The South Wales Borderers, 9th Bn, The Royal Sussex Regiment, 10th Bn,The Gloucestershire Regiment) of 36th Infantry Division (the only British Division in Theatre operating under American Command).
5. sean says:
17 Sep 2008 08:33:38 PM

Hello, if anyone knows any veterans from the marauders, I would be interested in interviewing them for a history project. I can be contacted at
6. My Cousin was KIA at Myitkyina with 5307th says:
12 Feb 2009 08:30:08 AM

Seeking any info on battle and units. My cousin reported to 5307th on 1 Jun 44 and KIA 28 Jun 44 battle for Myitkyina. He was a replacement leaving Hampton Roads, VA POE 20 Apr 44 I believe on the the Wm. Mann. Any details appreciated arrived Bombay (record not clear). Thanks Vin
7. Day says:
15 Jan 2011 04:30:32 PM

My father was a flight engineer on one of the 1st C-47s to land at Myitkyina. He said the *** were shooting knee morters at them.
If anyone has info about the 1st planes that flew in, please e-mail me.
8. Jacqulyn Meyers VanderHoff says:
23 Aug 2011 10:22:47 PM

Seeking info on my Uncle, PFC Donald D. Meyers. Type o on the 5307 list spelled his name Mayers. He was a Merrill's Marauder 2nd Battalion Company "E" Blue Combat Team Serial # 16050907 this # is on his certificate for his Bronze Medal & his daughter Paula Meyers Carter, Has his medals, certificate, & patch. He survived the war & we believe he wasn't injured, (no Purple Heart.) If at all possible to know what his assignments were, what weapons he handled, if he was in all 5 of the major battles, or was he one of the many who got sick & had to be evacuated. Are there any public medical records documenting any illnesses. I don't know how many of the 200 survivors are left, (he died on Dec. 1, 1985& he never spoke of the war or what he did)) or if they check your site. Thank You for any help.
9. Joe A. Watson says:
18 Jun 2012 08:32:25 AM

My late dad's 209th Engineer Combat Battalion (along with the 336th) was deployed to Myitkyina on May 24, 1944. He served as a medic. As have others here, I have been unable to reconstruct much of a record of his service. In 1973, at a National Archives St. Louis facility, 80% of U.S. Army service records related to the years 1912-through-1963 were destroyed by fire ... including those we family members would need.
10. Robert says:
17 Aug 2012 10:29:43 AM

Joe A. Watson,

Obviously, you did not share your father's name.
I am involved with a nephew of a former member of the 475th Infantry Regiment
in the process to receive full recognition towards combat service.
Did your late dad receive full recognition? Please email me.


11. Anonymous says:
9 Jan 2013 09:46:53 PM

It must be monsoon 1942. We retreated from Rangoon to Waingmaw, a village across the River Irrawaddy and Myitkyina. Ir was training heavily one morning and suddenly a huge truck stopped by the front of our rented house on the Bhamo-Myitkyina main highway. My dad and eldest brother waved to the 2 young Brits signalling to ask them to come in for coffee and for a rest from the rains. To make the story short, the Brits said they were on their way to Myitkyina to catch a (probably the last)flight to India and that if they don't return here, please take the bundle of books they handled to my dad to deliver to any British Embassy or consulate in China if we made it there. We did reach Kunming, Yunnan province, and my dad did deliver the "books" to the Brit consulate/embassy. My dad and eldest brother are deceased now and I have been wondering all these past (70)years who were those Brits, are they still alive and where are they or their close relatives now. Perhaps the Brit Govt may have information for me before I leave this earth too. Thank you very much.
12. Dick says:
11 Jan 2013 11:54:44 AM

I wrote the foregoing comment No.11 and would appreciate any relevant information. I may be reached at
Thanks much.
13. Dick says:
11 Jan 2013 03:12:50 PM

I am confused. Some reports stated that Myitkyina was recaptured by Gen. Stilwell while others reported that it was Gen Daniel I. Sultan. I have a photo showing my dad presenting a banner (only days after the liberation of Myitkyina)to a U.S. General, whom I believe to be General Sultan, according to the Chinese letters embroidered in the banner. Could any American WWII/CBI veterans/heroes please give me the correct answer? I was only 13/14 in Calcutta, India, during that time.
Thank you very much and God Bless.
14. Rex Matts says:
28 Feb 2013 06:34:36 PM

My brother was a mule skinner with the 5307th. He would never talk about the Marauders. He died five years ago. I did talk with his long time friend who served with him from the mule traing at Camp Carson till they were both discharged, They both came home health and unharmed. I asked his frined what was the worst experience. He said the cold when they crossed the high mountains because they only had jungle clothes.
15. Branthafer says:
12 Mar 2013 10:54:44 AM

My Father-In-Law, Floyd B. Branthafer, served in Burma as a Merrills Marauder and married into the family for over 30 yrs never knew he was a Marauder.I knew he was in the service but he never spoke of any details.His Sons say they never remember him telling war stories or telling them he was a Marauder.Other family Veterans would mention the circumstances of Floyds service in Burma as " a bad deal", and other negative terms.Floyd past away 2 yrs. ago and before his death started talking about his time in service and told us he rescued a baby bear whose mother had been killed. He said he took care of it until he had to leave and someone else took it to find a home. He talked of going to India and Israel[?] and we didnt know if he always had his facts in order.Some family members have done research to try to verify some of the things he told us.If anyone knew Floyd in Asia or elsewhere we would be happy to hear from you or yours and would like to know of any books or information about his time in service. Thanking you in advance.
16. Barbara says:
20 Aug 2013 11:13:04 AM

Hello, I am writing a historical fiction novel and have read about all the documents out there (by Marauders, Chindits, Stilwell's diary, Hunter's debriefing, army military history plus any web sites tied to the construction of the road, Marauders, or Mars Task force. I'm looking for a survivor from any branch that served in that area to interview. Please contact me at Thank you in advance for any information you can provide.
17. Mal Cooper says:
21 Dec 2013 08:43:23 PM

In 1967-68 My co-workers and I went into the mountains to build a house for a friend. Ralph Pina, Whom I had been working with for 7-8 years said He hadn't spent a nite otside since the war. He told us He had been with Merrils Mauaders and gave us quite a story of His service. He was, I think 17 or 18 years old at the time. He was wounded in the ankle by rifle fire while bringing amunition to His comrades. He never recieved a Purple Heart. He told us many of the men had minor wounds and just comntinued on "You couldn't leave" He said. If anyone knew Ralph I would love to hear about His sevice in Burma. He never spoke of His time in service after that week. He is on the "Pass in Review' List of Merrils Mauraders.
18. Stephanie says:
27 Dec 2013 10:49:42 PM

My granfather, James Yaboni (32105963) served in Merrill's Mauraders Company "E". If anyone has any information regarding that, please email me He passed away in 1998 at 80 years old and never really spoke about his time in WWII. The only story I recall him telling were about a monkey they had trained to play a drum.
19. Anonymous says:
20 Apr 2014 06:49:45 PM

To Mal Cooper,
I am Ralph Pina's daughter. Just this past year my mom gave me his service record, a book chronicling Merrill's Marauders mission with notes my dad hand wrote in the margin. I would love to hear from you.
20. Anonymous says:
14 Feb 2015 07:48:49 PM

My Uncle, Wade H. Clements, died in the offensive. Anybody out there know of him?
21. Keenan Boyle says:
14 Oct 2015 04:07:37 PM

My great uncle was Frank D. Merill of Merrill's Marauders. I would love to hear from anyone that has information on Frank Merrill. I am trying to collect photos and other useful information. I can be reached at
22. Byron Boucher says:
13 Dec 2015 01:02:50 AM

My grandfather was a Merrill's Marauder in Burma he was a first sergeant in G company his name was Harold Boucher but he went by Harry I am trying to get info on what battles or engagements he was In During the war He did not talk much about it other than he said they ate Python becuse they where hungry and killed ***
23. Maria Teresa Johnson says:
27 Aug 2016 09:33:35 AM

! Thank you very much to all of you ! May God reward you abundantly. I am the widow of Pvt. Merle F. Johnson who was a Meriill's Marauder in Burma. He was the one that had his boots blown off, as reported on the website
24. Angela Massman (Dulaney) says:
24 Oct 2016 08:54:57 AM

I have just started to research my grandfather's military service. Every time I speak to my father, he remembers more and more of the stories. My grandfather died with I was 10, so I never knew him as an adult. From the sketchy remains of his official records (due to fire) what we know is he was a combat engineer who specialized in demolition and explosives. While he was not a Marauder, he was with either the 209th or the 236th who came in and was their relief at the Battle of Myitkyina. This is only the beginning, so hopefully I can find more information.
25. Anonymous says:
12 Apr 2017 09:41:24 AM

My Father was a warrant officer in the all black 699th engineering division he helped build the Stillwell road. His US army division fought in the battle of Myitchyina as well you foo's like to forget that fact
26. Anonymous says:
17 Jul 2018 08:25:54 AM

Not a usual fan of war details, I am seeking to understand 'nicely' what might be known of 1 Japanese soldier who may have died March 27, 1944 in Burma. I know only that he was likely a Fugi-i and from Hokkaido, he probably was in his 30s. Legend has it that an American sniper shot him. I am not seeing many Americans other than Merrill's men and Air Force suppliers. Any one have advice or clarification? Thank you.
27. Byron Boucher says:
27 Aug 2018 05:44:12 AM

My grandpa was a first sergeant in G company of the 5307 composite regiment (provisional) Mars task force Harold Boucher we all called him Harry or gramps I know he had jungle rot from the mud luckily he never got Malaria but he did have skin issues his whole life after the war grandpa got a marksman iron cross and Purple Heart he did tell me about the war in Burma when I asked him back in 2003 when he was still alive he said yes he was a Merrill’s Maurerder and he would get teary eyed when he told me the story’s about the Japanese knee Mortor that blew a guys guts out and peices of bloody human chunks landed on gramps and how they had very little to eat K rations so they ate python a few times and the water gave them all diarrhea he said he spent multiple nights in a mud trench or fox hole something along those lines buried in mud and one guy shot his 45 Thompson so fast in melted the barrel so gramps learned to fire in spurts rather than all at once he said short trigger pulls at the enemy not to melt the barrel he also fired a 30 cal machine gun that took two men to operate one to feed and one to shoot but mostly he went on combat missions with the 45 in the push for the air field he said he met Indian Curkuas I think he meant Chindits but just couldn’t pronounce it and fought side by side with them against the Japanese he called them *** but I say Japanese he said one time a jap sniper was tied up in a tree that was shot hanging there and everyone was useing him as target practice until Gramps told them to save there ammo and not be dummy’s and give away there position and get em all killed so they just left him hang there with his guts hanging out he said they killed a lot of Japanese and that war was hell he said a American soldier got wounded and he could not breathe so gramps gave him a in the field Traciotomy with a fountain pen he took apart and stuck it in there so he could breathe and then the medics took over gramps cried about that one anyway that’s what I can remember him telling me gramps died in 2006 after the war he enjoyed clam digging fishing hunting watching baseball and eating ice cream and was married to my grandma forever he had 3 kids my Dad was one of those kids what I remember most about gramps most was going to the ocean and hanging out with him fishing and clam digging not the war stories just thinking of the sacrifices he made and the hell he made it through brings tears to my eyes you are loved and missed Grampa you where one tough G dam* cookie
28. Anonymous says:
28 Apr 2021 11:10:28 PM

What a story by BYRON. His Grampa was a hero has were all his mates in this horrific episode of the War.
29. Anonymous says:
29 Apr 2021 10:08:36 AM

Looking for any information on the 779th. EPD company stationed in Burma from 1944- 1945. My father was there but didn’t talk too much about the war. He did say the OSS did a background check on him and tried to recruit him. He declined but was amazed at the extent of the background check. They he’s even interviewed his elementary school teacher.
30. Jim says:
21 Aug 2022 11:30:12 AM

Pop had lots of stories, a few made it into print, like this one.
Pop’s Account of 504th

Ex-CBI Roundup
Burma (Myanmar) 1944-45
January 1998 Issue
By James L. Watson
I would assume that all veterans of the C.B.I, believe that their own particular unit was the hardest worked, most deprived, most abused, and did more to win the war than any other single unit. And so it is with the survivors of the 504th Engineer Light Pontoon Company.
The Company was formed in 1942 at Camp Gordon, GA. It was a single unit, attached at times to various Battalions, but mostly operated on its own. It had its own H.Q. company, motor pool, supply system, and mess personnel. It was commanded by an unorthodox R.O.T.C. Captain. It had a Headquarters platoon, two Bridge platoons, and one Light equipage platoon. Our mission was to make forced river crossings with the very fast storm boats. Follow up with our M-2 assault boats, then a treadway bridge, followed by a ten-ton pontoon bridge reinforceable to twenty tons.
After spending two years as a S/Sgt. Drill Instructor at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, I attended the Engineer Officer Candidate School and upon graduation was assigned to the 504th Engineer Light Pontoon Company as commander of the first bridge platoon.
The only place at Camp Gordon where there was enough water to build a pontoon bridge was at the Litner mill pond. The big problem here was that it was full of large stumps. These were removed by using a lot of hard labor and a goodly amount of shear pins on the truck winches. At this time we were living in barracks and had our own mess hall. The motor pool was run by a very capable crew commanded by Lt. Pat Confredo. The motor sergeant was a very competent Sgt. Grace. He had more skill in his left hand than most motor sergeants.
Our administrative officer was Lt. Ben Lester, a graduate of Virginia Military Institute. It seemed like our company commander was off attending some school or other the whole time I was with the unit, so Lt. Lester was what you might say, the de-facto company commander.
We set up for some time down on the Savannah River and got in a lot of practice building bridges in swift water instead of a flat mill pond. We also filled an M-l assault boat with iced down beer which made the mosquito population bearable. The profit from the beer sales went into the company fund. My wife and Lt. Flatley's were living in Augusta, GA, at this time so, of course, he and I took a couple of trucks and went to town several times. Then, the captain found out about it and we were grounded. So, that night we took an M-l assault boat down the river several miles and wound up at a huge dam. On the way back to camp, we hit a submerged stump and tore the bottom out of the boat. We managed to get the boat and motor back to camp by daylight, however, the captain was not the least bit amused. So, we spent the rest of the nights on the Savannah River staying in our tent.
Came time for the BIG war games in Tennessee and it was decided that we were capable of getting there, and maybe we might even build a bridge over the Cumberland River. We bivouacked next to the cemetery at Granville, TN. Lt. Flatley and I made some arrangements with a very nice farm family, and our wives joined us in the big war games. The captain was not amused. We made a few points with the local townspeople by using our air compressor and jack-hammers to dig some graves for them. Lt. Confredo got invited to a poker game with some of the local men and came away with a goodly bit of their money. I don't think he was invited back. The portable hot water showers that Sgt. Grace designed and built really worked great.
The BIG, BIG war game finally got started. We were to erect a ten-ton bridge across the Cumberland, and two heavy Pontoon battalions were to erect two 20-ton bridges. It rained and it rained, and the river came up. We got our bridge up in record time. Neither heavy bridge made it across. We reinforced our bridge with air floats and got our forces across. This was a big mistake. The powers that be decided we were ready for overseas duty. Our wives had gone home to Birmingham, AL, so the weekend before we headed for Camp Forrest, TO, for overseas processing, my best friend and I "borrowed" a couple of motorcycles and headed southwest. On Monday, we both had very sore tall ends. Not from the long bike ride but from the fangs of our captain.
We finally embarked for North Africa from Camp Patrick Henry. There were 450 troops crammed into one hold of a Liberty Ship named the S. S. Guihan. We disembarked at the port of Oran and the troops went on to Algiers by rail. A few of us stayed behind to get our T.A.T. equipment.
The trip across the Atlantic was quite a cruise for a bunch of men who were primarily from New Jersey and Indiana. The bunks were so close together it was impossible to sit up on one of them. The showers, of course, were salt water. One was enough for most all of us. The convoy was the largest one sent across at that time. Considerably more than 100 ships. We must have been in the middle because as far as we could see there was nothing but ships. We were fed two meals a day, a lot of mutton and a lot of rotten fish.
Being curious, as all good engineers are, it was discovered that there were hundreds of cases of "C" rations next to our hold, and that a way could be found to gain access to them. They were intended for the 1200 German P.O.W.'s who would make the return trip. I am sure none of them starved like a lot of our men that they held prisoner.

Ten-ton Pontoon Bridge. Photo by James L. Watson.
The convoy split up somewhere off of the Straits of Gibraltar. Our part went on to Oran. We went overland to Algiers and were loaded on an L.S.T. numbered 21. It was built in Evansville, Indiana. There were eleven of them in this group, each one with a landing craft tank chained down on the lop deck. The tank deck was empty.
This was quite a bit better than the Liberty ship. Our company was split up on two of the ships, so we had lots of elbow room. I bunked in a room with the Engineer Officer who, like the rest of the crew, were Coast Guardsmen. The trip though the Mediterranean Sea was like a cruise. Going through the Suez Canal was an eye opener. The partially sunken ship hulls and bombed out facilities ashore was our first look at war. We tied up every night and we all went ashore. When we had to tie up for an hour or two during daylight a bunch of us went swimming! Our cooks worked with the crew's cooks and our motor pool men helped in the maintenance, so our Captain decided his two junior officers should stand watch with the Officer of the Deck. I found this to be quite boring.
The ensign really didn't do much. The enlisted men really ran the ship. When we got out into the Indian Ocean we got into a cyclone, and it was no longer boring. The ship, being top heavy with the L.C.T. on top and nothing below, had a tendency to ROLL. To a landlubber like me it was really scary! We picked up a life boat with some Greek sailors somewhere out of Aden, Arabia. As soon as they got aboard, the skipper told the gun crews to sink the life boat. As it disappeared over the horizon, it was still floating.
We went ashore in Aden, Arabia, two of us hired a 1929 Chevrolet taxi and saw a lot of strange sights. If you have never seen a Parsi Tower of Silence, I recommend you read up on it. Bombay was next and we got ashore twice. Very interesting. Had anti-aircraft practice on a towed target off of Colombo, Ceylon. We were not impressed by their accuracy. Then, on up the Hooghly River to Calcutta.
We were trucked to our new temporary home, the Kanarni Estate apartments. Each apartment had two large rooms and a bath. The men were distributed out among the apartments. Not too crowded for a change. It was on the sixth floor and had a perfectly good elevator. Much like Gen. Lear of Yoo Hoo fame, being in a war itself wasn't bad enough punishment. "You will not use the elevator" said the Port Commander. At least he didn't have us singing, "This is the Army, Mr. Jones."
What Gen. Lear couldn't hear was the parodies, all rhyming with Lear. When it comes to making up songs, any G.I. would put Irving Berlin to shame. Remember "Dirty Gerry from Bizerte, hid a mousetrap beneath her skirty. made her boyfriends fingers hurty, made her boyfriends much alerty."
Anyway, we moved in on Thanksgiving Day and the *** bombed the docks on Sunday. No L.S.T.s were hit but a goodly toll of humans were killed. Three thousand dock workers left town and the 225 members of the 504th became stevedores.
Our orders to proceed to Ledo were cancelled and we took over the unloading and warehousing activities. The Indians did everything by hand, even though there were a lot of new fork lifts sitting there. If it has wheels and an engine, any G.I. can operate it. As I recall, the Port Battalion that was to operate Calcutta Docks were taking basic training somewhere in the States.
Next it was decided that we would assemble two floating cranes that had arrived in hundreds of pieces. This task fell to my buddy, Lt. Flatley and his 3d Platoon, with the assistance of me and the 1st Platoon. Skids were placed and a big diesel crane was purloined from somewhere, and the work of assembling the huge barge was started. Everything was bolted together with gaskets. By the time the sides and inner compartments were going in place it started to really get hot. An English civilian, who was assembling a somewhat smaller rig next to us, was using Indian labor and a hand-cranked crane. He told us he didn't think our barge would slide down the ramps we had built. But, who would believe a dumb old British civilian? We kept on bolting!
Then a ship arrived with 20 wooden hulled, 36-foot motor towing launches. They had come as deck cargo and the wood had dried out. When they set them in the water they started to sink. So, the first platoon and me left the crane operation and took over the Tug Boat fleet. We got out pumps going and after a few days the boats swelled up enough to stop leaking. Then I was told to fuel all of them up. Eighteen of them were gas burning Chrysler marine engines and two were Cummins diesels. Each boat held 800 gallons of fuel.
After a few days of five gallon jeep cans, I figured there had to be a better way. I had made the acquaintance of a Lt. Col. supply guru from the air base one night in the bar of the Grand Hotel, so I asked if he, by any chance, had a spare tank truck I could "borrow." Sure. Just go get a driver and he would take us out to the Base and fix us up. I did, and he did, and we started fueling up those pesky boats.
Two days later, the Lt. Col. appeared at the docks and demanded his tanker back by dark or he would have us court martialed. That night we took the tanker back and I had a jeep with a couple of jeep cans of gas with me. After bidding the colonel goodbye at the officers club, I went out to the park where the tankers were. At least 200 of them. I left the driver and the two jeep cans and headed for Calcutta. The next morning we resumed fueling with the tank truck that was sitting there.
Shortly thereafter, a major from Gen. Cheves office came around and told me that we would start making use of those tugs and help the British tugs push the incoming Liberty ships around the various locks. (The Hooghly River had a 16-foot tide, so all ships were loaded and unloaded in Locks.) The men of the First Platoon were mostly farm boys from Indiana. The river had boat traffic like our present day freeways. Rules of the road? What's that? Boy, did we ever get a lot of horns, bells, sirens and fists pointed our way!
It was quite interesting how the men reacted to this life of a seaman. Alter 55 years, I can remember Dominic Balloco, RFC, Skipper of one of the river-going tugs. They slept on board, cooked and ate on board. After a few days, the Major came down and told me we would start ferrying some troops who were bivouacked at Howrah. How many men could we carry per trip? How do I know? Let's try 25. The boats were a little top heavy and rolled a bit, but 25 it was.
Then, the Red Cross decided we should run some Sunday excursions. The boats were busy little beavers. Meanwhile, the other boats in the fleet were moving barges around, still pushing Liberty ships in and out of locks and generally making themselves useful. Lt. Flatley and his platoon worked diligently to complete the first barge to erect a 110-foot Washington Whirley crane on.
Came the great day for the launching. Everyone stood back for the great event while the cable restraint was cut with a torch. Nothing! Zilch. T-5 Arnold gave it mighty shoves with his crane. No movement. We hooked three of our tugs to it and pulled mightily. Nope.
The Indian Navy happened to be in the lock and offered to give a pull. When their inch steel cable snapped, they left. The Englishman working next to us offered to have his crew of native Indians jack the thing up and put his well-used teakwood launching timbers under it, if in return we would set his steel in place with our power crane. A deal. This time it sailed down into the water with a great splash! The crane parts were then erected. Two 200 H.P. diesels turning a generator that operated the 110-foot boom. The name "George" was painted above the trade name Washington, and it went to work. One of our tugs was tied to it at all times. The other crane was completed and put to work in very short order. And, our humble apologies were given to the very wise English gentleman that we had laughed at before.
About that time, the Port Battalion started up the Hooghly River, and we set out for Ledo by rail, side-wheeler, train, river and finally, narrow gauge railroad. The really tough part of that trip was getting our vehicles lowered enough to go through the tunnels. Tech Sgt. Charles Grace was the man that this job fell to. In my eight years of service, Sgt. Grace was the best motor sergeant I saw. No matter what mechanical problem came up, Sgt. Grace could handle it left handed!
One little incident that happened on the ferry still gives me a laugh. We slept where ever we could find a place to lie down. One man got his shoes kicked overboard. For some reason or other, we had to get him some new shoes the real military way. A report of survey no less, that said "... a thorough search was made with grappling irons . . ." Wow!
We finally arrived in Ledo and trucked out to Margherita to the so-called staging area. Each split bamboo basha had a well in front with an old-fashioned up and own handle for pumping. We took the pump off of one well and hooked one of our gas-powered pumps up. Set up the heating coil and shower heads and we were in business. Within a few days, Sgt. Grace had a concrete slab poured for his motor pool. No one asked where he got the concrete, and he never volunteered any information.
We were put to work doing all sorts of things around the 20th General Hospital. We had bricklayers in the Company, so they built a brick, air-conditioned ward for typhus patients.
It seems that there is always something for an Engineer company to do. Someone decided it would be a good idea if we used our semi-trailers to haul pipe up to Shingbwiyang for the P.O.L. outfit. It was during the rainy season and the road being slick, the trailers kept sliding off the road on the curves. We tried hauling the pipe on our Diamond T 6x6s, and that worked fine. Meanwhile, by the grace of God and with the help of Sgt. Grace, we acquired a concrete floor for the mess hall.
When the 5307th Infantry came through on their way to Burma, quite a few of them used our showers. They even brought fire wood for the "heater." Little did we know that we would meet up with the Marauders some time later.
We kept on working around Ledo doing all sorts of work. Some of it was even fun. Then, came that day when the Marauders captured the air strip at Myitkyina. We will never know who ordered the 504th to draw their assault boats and motors from the Engineer Depot and fly them into Myitkyina NOW! Before mid-afternoon, the first plane was loaded and my best friend and tent-mate, Lt. Flatley, and eight of his men were airborne.
Before the second plane was loaded, word came down that we were not to proceed to Myitkyina, but should turn the boats in and stay at Margherita. When Flatley reported to Col. Hunter, the colonel couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Boats," he yelled. "I'm out of everything I need to fight this war and they send me boats!" He told Flatley where to dig in and went storming off.
They buried the first Marauder killed at Myitkyina and then just kept on doing anything that needed doing. Lt. Flatley and one of his men became really ill after a week or so and Col. Seagrave sent them back to Ledo.
Lt. Lester, the acting C.O., told me to get out to the airfield and get the first plane to Myitkyina. Before I left, I asked Flatley what the men needed. He said a little booze would be nice. I loaded eight cases of beer and a couple fifths of whiskey and a wind-up phonograph with some Andrews Sisters records in an outboard motor shipping box and left.
After a few days, the Lt. Col. I was reporting to sent us down below Pamati where an infantry platoon had a river block set up on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River. A little after dark, we went out on the river using flashlights for a look-see. We found several makeshift rafts with *** hanging onto them. We destroyed both the *** and the rafts. We kept this up until our flashlights got too dim to see anything.
At daylight, I went up to the airstrip and asked my "boss" for some batteries. When I told him why, and that we sure could use some bigger lights, he said he would see what he could do. He came down to our river block that afternoon and told me some belter lights were on the way. He also took the infantry platoon back to the airstrip with him.
Next day, we had a 5 K.W. generator and an anti-aircraft search light. Also a P.F.C., in starched pants, who was supposed to show us how to operate the "Thing" and then get back to Chabua. I told him we would talk about the going back part later. About two months later, I can't remember his name or unit after all these years, but I can say that he was one hell of a soldier.
The searchlight lit up the river to the bend, about a half mile upstream. This gave us the chance to plan how we were going to make our attack. By staying out in the dark, with the light on the nearest target, we could take care of half a dozen rafts in one trip.
The next morning my boss, the Lt. Col., came down to our "block" and wanted to know what all the shooting was about. When I told him, he asked if it would be possible to get a couple of prisoners. We would try.
By afternoon we had a field phone strung down to us. Shortly after dark, three rafts came in sight. We destroyed the first two, then managed to get the three *** on the last one into the water and swimming for the shore. When we got alongside, the first *** kept diving under water so we disposed of him. The other two stopped swimming and we pulled them into the boat. We stripped their clothes off and as soon as we got ashore, tied them up with some parachute shroud lines. Then, it was back on the river for the rest of the night. Called the colonel at daylight and he sent a jeep down for the prisoners. That afternoon, he sent us a light .30 and one heavy M.G. with several cases of ammunition.
I could go on and on about the operation, but night after night it was the same thing. Except one night, a well built raft came down with five *** on it. When we got close to it, two of them jumped off and started swimming. After we took care of them we headed back towards the raft. Still in the dark, but close enough to see them clearly, it turned out we had two officers and one female. They offered no resistance so we took them ashore. We had the officers strip but didn't touch the woman. One officer, who spoke some English, said she was a Korean "nurse." She had a satchel with her that was full of *** invasion rupees. We had a small fire in a dugout and threw the "money" into it. She screamed bloody murder!

PACK ANIMALS belonging to the O.S.S. Det. 101 preparing to cross river.
Photo by James L.Watson
The colonel came down with a red-bearded major from the O.S.S. and told me he was my new boss. From then on, we spent the daylight hours ferrying his men and supplies, and sometimes we would convert our boats to ferry and haul mules across.
The night Myitkyina fell was the worst of all. My new boss had gotten us another heavy 30 M.G. and a light 50 M.G. so we stayed up on the high bank and watched the rafts coming down the river. It looked like a freight train. We just kept blowing them out of the water - almost continuous fire. A lot of the *** got ashore on the east bank and the O.S.S. men took care of them.
For the next month we were kept busy moving troops across the river. Mostly Chinese. We also moved the 475th Infantry across. Then I got seriously ill and was evacuated to the 20th General Hospital in Ledo.
The commander of the second bridge platoon flew into Myitkyina to continue the ferry operations. Then, the entire company was flown into Myitkyina. Once again, Sgt. Grace and his crew, supervised by the motor officer, Lt. Pat Confredo, had to get our trucks cut down to a size that would fit into a C-47.
I was still hospitalized at the time so didn't see how this was done. Our unit was attached to the British 36th Division and we joined up with them at the Mogaung River. The long truss bridge had been so badly damaged the *** hadn't even tried to repair it. They had built a rail bridge upstream, and a foot underwater!
The 504th was in the process of repairing the main bridge when I returned from the hospital. First thing I was told to do was get our Quickway crane mounted on a flatcar and start driving piling. We found an eight-wheel flat car and mounted the crane with the pile driving rig attached on one end. We took our large air compressor off its truck and mounted it on the other end. In the middle we had six Hobart welders. The local Burmese helped get the piling for us and did any other thing we asked them to do.
The bridges had been bombed many times and finding steel beams was quite a problem. We drug some of the pieces up out of the river and cut out the bad sections and welded in whatever we could find that we could make fit. A lot of 500 pound bombs that had failed to explode were laying around most bridges. If it was possible, Lt. Confredo would remove the fuses and we would shove them out of the way. If he couldn't get the fuse out we just buried them or left them alone. I know several bridge abutments on that railroad that have bombs poured in the abutments.
We found a great supply of steel beams at a sugar mill at Sawmah and were happily tearing down the mill when the British Civil Officer found out about it. That stopped that! At one bridge, with short spans, we used 12x12 teakwood beams, two high, for beams.
Getting back and forth from our camp to our work site was a problem. Our jeep with rail wheels had plenty of power but not much traction. Ten or twelve of us piled on the jeep with a couple of men with sandbags sanded the rails. When this failed, we all got off and pushed. Since we had only the jeep brakes, coming down a hill was sometimes rather exciting. We were always in 4-wheel drive, but one time the clutch let go on the jeep and we had a real thriller!
As the 36th Division pushed the *** south, we moved up with them to keep the supply trains going. At Mohnyin we lost Sgt. Conti. He just disappeared. We hunted, and the villagers all hunted, but we never found any trace of him. I checked the Military Records two years ago and he had been carried as missing in action for two years, then to killed in action.
After the 36th got across the Irrawaddy and onto plains, we were recalled to Myitkyina. We were going to build a hospital to go along with the plans to build a B-29 base on the east side of the Irrawaddy. By this time, a side road from the Ledo Road had been built Into Myitkyina so getting supplies was a bit easier.
My best friend and tent-mate and I poured a concrete floor for our tent, and since it was the cooler season we built a fireplace. Lt. Ftatley and his platoon had received a portable saw mill so they started cutting lumber. Another platoon set up a cement batching plant. First things first. Concrete floors for everything. Wood framed mess hall.
Lt. Flatley and his platoon started sawing some local timber but found it had too much shrapnel in it. S/Sgt. Grace converted some *** trucks we had liberated into logging trucks, and mounted a Jaeger Dixie hoist on a 6x6 with a boom for loading. We had a large number of Burmese loggers using water buffalo, and one elephant. The second platoon was mixing concrete and hauling it in dump trucks to the various sites. If concrete isn't constantly agitated, the water separates and it becomes useless. We told the drivers to go like hell so it wouldn't separate. A certain Lt. Col. objected to these "speeding" trucks and insisted on the M.P.s pressing charges against them. Since it was the Summary Courts Martial officer, I saw my duty and sentenced each "speeder" to be reprimanded. No fine.
My platoon was back on the river, this time with our ten-ton Pontoon boats. We built a three-boat, two-bay ferry with three 22 horse outboards. We pulled a 30-foot launch out of the river. It had been strafed and the antique Chevy engine was ruined. We plugged up the holes and S/Sgt. Grace rigged up a Studebaker engine into it. Since we didn't have a marine clutch, Sgt. Grace cut the blades off the propeller and welded them back on in an inverted position. This worked fine and was really a great help in moving the ferry, especially when the river was up and running fast.
Shortly after V.E. Day, the Army came out with a point system for sending some of our troops Stateside. After figuring and re-figuring, I found I had enough points to go HOME. Then, the great news arrived that the "Green Project didn't apply to officers." Aw shucks! Back to the river and hauling mules and one elephant across the Irrawaddy.
Then, in late June, the Company Commander came down to the river and handed me my orders to go Stateside. By air transport yet! He told me a plane would be stopping by for me in one hour. That was the longest 55 minutes I ever spent sitting alongside the Myitkyina air strip!
Spent the first night in Ledo, then on to Karachi. Was there three days and nights. T/5 John Thompson, who also had the necessary points, told me the E.M. Club was lousy. One beer per man. I loaned him some bars and took him in the Officers Club. When he saw all that booze, his eyes popped out. Then, on to Baghdad, then Bahrain, Cairo, Tripoli, Oran, Casablanca, and finally Dakar. From there, it was a C-54 over to Natal, Brazil. Then sort of island hopping to Miami, FL. on the Fourth of July.

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» Hu, Su
» Merrill, Frank
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» Burma

Related Books:
» Merrill's Marauders
» The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45

Battle of Myitkyina Photo Gallery
Frank Merrill with two Chinese officers, Naubum, Burma, Apr 1944
See all 3 photographs of Battle of Myitkyina

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